TEXT: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 19, 2023

November 19, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

As you probably know, the way we usually celebrate Mass today is very different

from the way we used to celebrate Mass a few decades ago,

and still do in some places.

So, we talk about the “Old Mass” and the “New Mass”.

And nowhere is the difference more keenly perceived than in

thesung Extraordinary Form’s Requiem Mass

—the Old Rite’s Funeral Mass, or “Mass for the Dead”.

It’s hard to describe the sung Requiem Mass to someone who’s never been to it.

The words of St. Paul in today’s second reading come to mind:

“Let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”

Beside the black vestments and the gravely worded prayers,

the music and chant are very sobering

at the same time both dramatic and somber.

And right in the middle of the Mass, everything pauses

as the choir chants a cappella the Dies Irae—“Day of Wrath”,

the long sequence warning of the coming of the Lord on the Last Day:

“O what fear man’s bosom rends,

When from Heaven the Judge descends,

On whose sentence all depends!”

This all comes together to make us “sober and alert”;

the power and finality of death hangs in the air.

And we can’t help but call to mind the reality that Jesus talks about

in today’s Gospel:

                  “The master of those servants came back

and settled accounts with them.”

Of course, this is very different from what we’re used to

nowadays in the New Mass, especially the typical funeral Mass.

In comparison to the Old Requiem,

the mood of everything in the New Funeral Mass is almost upbeat,

focused on the Resurrection and heaven.

Of course, these are important things to think of

since this is what Christ came and died for.

Still, it seems we’ve lost something in the translation, so to speak.

We have the idea of death and heaven,

but we sometimes seem to forget

that death brings first the judgment of Christ;

         that judgment can lead not just to heaven,

but also to purgatory, or even to hell.

And if we forget about these, we have a huge problem

because they really do exist.

Christ does judge us, sending the imperfect to purgatory and the wicked to hell.


But we don’t like thinking about that for several reasons.

First, frankly, grief overwhelms us, and we want to concentrate

on our hope in Christ and the goodness of our beloved dead.

That, again, is well and good.

But there are other reasons that are not so good.

For example, we don’t much like the idea of judgment nowadays.

Not only are we told not to judge others,

but we’re taught that all judgments of good and evil

are subjective and unfair.

Worse than this is when we take hope and twist it into a very selfish thing.

Sometimes we simply can’t bring ourselves to face the fact

that our loved one was imperfect and could be in purgatory or even in hell.

Or even worse, we refuse to face the fact that one day

we will also have to “settle accounts” with Christ

and that He might say to us, “You wicked, lazy…useless servant.”

But what a terribly destructive attitude:

         Not only does it lead us to not pray for the dead who need our help,

but it also leads us to not face the consequences of our own sins.


Now, some say, but Jesus said,

“I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”

Yes, but He immediately went on to say,

         “He who rejects Me…has a judge;

the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.”

In other words, the first time He came to save,

but when He comes the second time,

         whether we meet Him when we die

         or when He comes back to earth at the end of time (His “second coming”),

He will come to judge.

So, today we read,

         “After a long time, the master of those servants came back

and settled accounts with them.”

And elsewhere Jesus says,

“The Father…has granted the Son…authority to execute judgment

…those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,

and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

This is the teaching of Christ and the Apostles,

and the constant dogma of the Church:

Either when we die, or if we’re alive at the end of the world,

all of us will face the judgment of the One Just Judge: Jesus.

And like the servants in today’s gospel, He will give us either

our eternal reward or eternal punishment.


And there will be an eternal reward

for those who love and follow the way of the Lord Jesus;

to the ones who use His gifts wisely He will say,

“Come, share your master’s joy.”

The good news, folks, is that there really is a heaven.

Sometimes people say, “But that’s so far in the future. I want to enjoy myself now. “

Or, “What’s so great about heaven?

Eternal happiness sounds kind of like endless boredom.”

But think about this.

Imagine the happiest moments of your life:

the moments of your greatest thrill, accomplishment, and fulfillment.

Remember scoring your first touchdown or goal,

or solving your first really tough problem in science or math,

or riding your first roller coaster, 

         or kissing your first love.

Remember the consolation of your mama’s hugs

or the warmth of your baby’s kiss good night.

Take all these, put them all together,

take away any superficiality or fear of losing them,

and then think about experiencing something that wonderful always.

Would that be boring?

Would that be worth working and waiting your whole life for?

And that’s only a shadow of how wonderful heaven will be.


And, in God’s mercy, heaven isn’t reserved for just the folks

who live like saints on earth.

When the just Judge comes, He will distinguish between unrepented mortal sins

and unrepented venial or small sins and other like imperfections.

And in His mercy, He won’t deny heaven to those

who have repented their mortal sins,

but rather He will purify and perfect them in Purgatory.

God loves us so much

that He doesn’t hesitate to purify us in death in order to bring us to heaven.


But His love is so true and great that He also respects our free choices,

even when we choose the way of darkness and death

—unrepented mortal sins.

For these, there will be eternal punishment.

Friends, it is the clear teaching of Jesus Christ that there is a hell.

While the Gospels show Him constantly talking about heaven,

         they also show Him repeatedly warning us about hell.

As He tells us today,

“Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,

where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

This verse reminds us of several truths about hell.

First, hell really does exist.

It’s not just something made up in the Middle Ages,

         or in the imagination of nightmares or the mentally ill.

It’s as real as it gets.

Second, Hell is horribly painful;

         the souls in hell “weep” and “wail” and “grind” their “teeth”.

As Jesus tells us elsewhere, it’s like they’re “burn[ing] with unquenchable fire.”

And as the Book of Revelation tells us, the souls there

“will be tormented day and night.”


Now, a moment ago I asked you to think of the most wonderful moments in your life so you could get some idea about heaven.

Now imagine the absolute worst moments of your life.

Imagine the most horrible pain you’ve ever endured—physical or emotional.

Think of the darkest moments, the most fearful moments,

the most anxious moments, the most depressed moments.

Take all those together and they don’t even begin to compare

to the terrible pain of hell.


And that leads us to the third important fact about Hell:

It is eternal—forever and without end.

Revelation tells us the souls of the wicked are thrown into

         “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…

And they will go away into eternal punishment.”


And, finally, the essential quality that makes hell so terrible

is that it is the complete absence of God.

         It is the “darkness outside” of Christ’s presence–

Christ who is, Himself, the light of the world.

And as the complete absence of God, who is love,

it is the complete absence of love itself.

Consider life without any love whatsoever.

Not even the slightest form of love, nor respect, nor goodwill;

not even dull politeness.

And not even the comfort of hoping for love.

It’s not that God or your friends stop loving you–

it’s that you can’t experience that love,

and you have no hope of ever experiencing that love

in any way, shape, or form.

Remember the story of the rich man and the poor Lazarus:

         The rich man asks Abraham to console him just a little,

         and Abraham responds, “There is an abyss between us,

and no one can cross over.”

In hell you are truly eternally and completely outside in the darkness.


Some say, “Okay, but it’s really hard to go to hell.

         Only people like Adolph Hitler go to hell.

And, most people go to heaven, at least through purgatory, right?”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As Jesus says elsewhere,

“The gate is wide…that leads to destruction,

and those who enter by it are many.

…the gate is narrow…that leads to life,

and those who find it are few.”

In other words, Jesus says many go to hell, few go to heaven.

But the thing is, God doesn’t send us to hell unless we freely choose to go to hell.

Think about the choices we make, the “gates” we choose to enter,

that Jesus says will lead us to hell or heaven.

Today, the master accuses the wicked servant, saying, “You knew.”

He knew what his master wanted, but he ignored it.

Think of the times Jesus accuses the ones who knew the scriptures best

and should have welcomed Him as their messiah:

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees…

How are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

And think of how He chastised the cities where He had

taught and performed great miracles.

They knew of His power, both in word and deed,

but still didn’t accept Him:

“Woe to you, Chorazin…Beth-saida…Capernaum…

I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment

for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Remember, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

with fire and brimstone raining down from the sky.

The servant in today’s parable knew “how demanding” his master was.

Think how demanding Jesus is with us.

Remember what He said we “shall not” do:

“You have heard that it was said…’You shall not kill.

…But I say to you that…whoever says,

‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

“You have heard…it…said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully

has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

And it’s not only what we “shall not” do, but also what we must do.

For example, Jesus says,

“Depart from me, you cursed,

into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

for I was hungry and you gave me no food

…thirsty and you gave me no drink…”

And think of what He says today to the servant

who buried the one thing the master gave him:

“You wicked, lazy servant!

…Should you not…have put my money in the bank

so that I could have got it back with interest…?”

Christ gives us Catholics so many gifts

—the teachings of Scripture and the Church,

the sacraments, and his grace—

and we’re either too lazy or too afraid to put them to good use.

We bury them so that they bear no fruit.


Now, some may not like this kind of “fire and brimstone” homily.

I don’t blame you—I don’t like it either.

But it needs to be said because it’s the truth.

Some don’t like me even mentioning the word “hell”.

Well, to quote St. Thomas More:

“It’s not a likeable word. It’s not a likeable thing!”

And if we don’t face this unlikeable thing here and now,

where and when will we face it?

God forbid, not at judgment.


One of the advantages of the old Requiem Mass

was to dramatically remind us to “stay sober and alert”

when we thought about death and

to face the fullness and profundity of its meaning.

While it’s absolutely necessary to keep our eye and hope fixed on heaven

         and to think well of the dead,

         it’s foolish and even selfish to forget about judgment, purgatory and hell.

As we enter into this holy Mass, the heavenly mystery of the Eucharist,

         as the saints and angels surround Christ descending to this altar,

         let us remember and love the souls in purgatory by praying for them.

And let us pray for one another and for ourselves

         that we may stay sober and alert about the reality of our own death,

so that on the day of judgment, the Dies Irae,

our Divine Master will say to us not: 

“You wicked, lazy…useless servant.”

Be cast “into the darkness outside,”

but rather:

“Well done, my good and faithful servant…

Come, share your master’s joy.”